Everyone you talk to seems to have a theory about muscle cramps and running cramps in particular - eat bananas, eat oranges, take more salt, eat less salt. For some this may work, for most it doesn't.
All of our experts agree that it is beyond dispute that if you have an unhealthy diet it will contribute towards muscle cramps and they will explain in more detail how important proper nutrition is in the long term prevention and treatment of cramps.
Prevention in terms of nutrition comes down to consuming a mostly Fresh Food Diet that is high in minerals and avoiding ‘Empty’ foods that are high in sugar, low in minerals and introduce toxins and antibiotics into our systems.
Fast food of any type, fried food, processed or refined carbohydrates (such as cakes, biscuits and most types of bread), alcohol and excessive amounts of caffeine are all examples.
In terms of cramping, eating the wrong food does the following:
1) Reduces our muscles’ energy reserves and makes cramping more likely
2) Deprives the muscles of minerals required to relax and contract the muscles – particularly Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorous and Potassium
3) Introduces toxins (preservatives, food colouring and flavour enhancers) that have a stimulatory effect on the muscles and tend to inhibit the relaxation response.
Kinesiologist and Osteopath, David Wells explains it this way:
“When you eat ‘fast’ or ‘junk’ food you are depriving your body of the right fuel but also increasing overall toxicity with flavour enhancers and preservatives which are stimulatory to the brain and therefore tend to produce increased muscle tone (i.e. switching on the muscle contraction), making it more likely that you will cramp.”
“All of these toxins have to pass out through the liver for detoxification and therefore reduce your energy output because the liver burns up your energy reserves trying to detoxify you. This results in you feeling tired and with less energy for your muscles to work."
Sports nutritionist Richard Renton agrees, "Being an athletic trainer and having worked with teams for a long time, after starting with a new team I could tell you after 2 weeks who’s going to get cramps & who’s not - poor diet or a good diet, their habits, whether they sweat profusely, whether they take care of themselves or not, you can tell. If they're drinking a litre of fizzy pop before they work out, and if that’s their only method of drinking water, that’s going to create a lot of problems.”
So a good diet with plenty of fresh food is something everyone who suffers regular cramps should take notice of. Gone are the days, particularly as we get older when you can eat anything you like because you're able to burn off the calories.
Athletes who used to try this suffered worse problems than cramps. Many elite endurance athletes of the 90's frequently suffered 'mystery viruses'. In actual fact these were regular illnesses which we all suffer, but because these athletes had such depleted immune systems they were more susceptible to regular attack.
If you're not eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and suffering cramps, you're getting the early warning signs of worse things to come, so "clean up your act".
Paul Newland is a health and nutrition consultant, trainer, martial arts instructor, commercial helicopter pilot and author. His Ultimate Cramp Busting Guide is one of the internet's leading health information books and is the definitive guide to preventing, treating and curing cramps associated with exercise. In the Ultimate Cramp Busting Guide Newland speaks with 6 health, sports, nutrition, medical and complimentary health care professionals and explains why you get cramps, the best ways to treat them and how to prevent them from happening again.